Inquiry Learning in Austria

As education is ever evolving, we need to adapt to it. What do we mean by Inquiry Learning and why should we talk about it?

“Inquiry-based learning is more than asking a student what he or she wants to know. It’s about triggering curiosity. And activating a student’s curiosity is, I would agree, a far more important and complex goal than mere information delivery”


“Inquiry-based learning is an approach to learning that emphasizes the student’s role in the learning process. Rather than the teacher telling students what they need to know, students are encouraged to explore the material, ask questions, and share ideas”


“Inquiry is an approach to learning that involves a process of exploring the natural or material world, and that leads to asking questions, making discoveries, and testing those discoveries in the search for new understanding. Inquiry, as it relates to science education, should mirror as closely as possible the enterprise of doing real science”


It is a form of active learning that puts value by posing questions, problems or scenarios. The teacher is not a lecturer but rather a facilitator in the sense of providing research issues and questions to develop knowledge and solutions. It’s not so much about acquiring a fixed knowledge but rather a skill, for example through problem-based learning. The roots of inquiry learning are often mentioned in combination with John Dewey and focus more on natural sciences. But depending on the definition it can even start with Confucius:

“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.”

Looking into the international field the International Baccalaureate (IB) puts a big focus on Inquiry Learning. As an Austrian I ask myself: Why is the value of Inquiry Learning not more prominent in university and teaching practices in my country? The Austrian curriculum framework actually allows space to “fill it up” as teachers want to. There are certain things you have to do within a year, but the order is free and transdisciplinary links are also allowed.

Still, it is not very prominent and I believe that is due to two reasons:

  • Firstly – how are new teachers being trained in university?
  • Secondly – what kind of materials are being used in class?
  • And third of all – are teachers constantly learning themselves?

Depending on the education that the teachers experience as students and later at university one can easily get fixed on old teaching styles and dogmas. This could be solved by using diverse school materials but the school books in Austria are currently more busy catering to the Zentralmatura, a centralized way of testing students at the end of the 12 th or 13 th school year in order to receive the Reifeprüfung (their diploma). Professional development is usually seen as something tedious and something that takes away time but I believe it’s a way to learn more as a teacher but also being able to choose to be a learner for life. ((do you mean to become a learner forever? or learn life itself?))

Edutopia explains how a teacher can incorporate inquiry learning in a traditional school in four steps:

  1. Students should develop questions that they are hungry to answer
  2. Research the topic using time in class
  3. Have students present what they’ve learned
  4. Ask students to reflect on what worked about the process and what didn’t

Basically, it means a teacher needs to cater to specific classes and needs and also notice the small things. Therefore, old styles like repeating a certain topic from grade to grade couldn’t even be possible because the teacher thinks about what students want to find out. It all starts with finding the enthusiasm – not only students but the teachers as well. Excitement and curiosity are the two things in the school recipe that makes everything worthwhile.

Book recommendation:

Reitinger, J., Haberfellner, C., Brewster, E. (2016). Theory of inquiry learning arrangements: Research, reflection, and implementation. Kassel: Kassel University Press.

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